An Editor Says You Shouldn’t Edit During NaNoWriMo

A lot of writers and writing blogs on the internet are revving up their engines for NaNoWriMo, which starts on Saturday. I’m not one of those masses, mostly because my love is the editing process moreso than the actual story creation and writing process. As much as I champion the benefits of an editorial eye, I believe that the editorial process should be scrapped during NaNoWriMo in favor of making December NaNoEdMo (even though NaNoEdMo is actually in March).

Editing NaNoWriMo

Photo by Rory MacLeod (creative commons). Adapted by The Write Practice.

While editing is a critical component of the writing process, you may be better served forgetting about the editing process if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo. Here’s a few reasons why.

Editing Takes Time

The spirit of NaNoWriMo in my mind is to crank out as much text as you can in thirty days. The editing process can take precious time out of those days, especially if you’re being thorough with your edits.

If you’re on a four-day creative bender, stopping to edit will slow your momentum and may leave you struggling to pick up where you left off. If the words are flowing, do everything in your power to encourage them.

You can always fix typos come December 1.

Editing is an Interruption

While editing does force you to revisit your earlier pages, if your goal is to get a 50,000 word manuscript done in thirty days, editing is a time-suck that will halt your creative process.

If you have some spare time after getting your word count done, or if you’re done with the actual word composition for the day, spend some time mapping out the next series of scenes in your story so you have a source of inspiration for the next day.

If you think of something that would be a great addition to a scene you’ve already written, make a note of it, and go back to it once the meat of your text is finished.

It’s easier to write when you’re moving forward as opposed to revisiting what you’ve already done.

Your First Draft is Supposed to be Bad

We do a lot of talking on the Write Practice on how to improve your writing or how to add depth to your characters or plot.

In making these suggestions and supplying these tips, we’re implying that which we don’t really ever say outright: the first draft of your work is probably not good.

Unless you are a modern prodigy, your first draft will not be good. The dialogue may be stilted, and you may be telling your reader what you should be showing them instead, but that’s what a first draft is for.

It’s hard enough to get words on the page without worrying about typos and misplaced commas. Forget the grammarian critic in your head and just get words and ideas and plot lines on paper.

Write in November, Edit in December

If you finish your 50,000 words before the end of the month, then go back and rewrite and edit and correct yourself.

It’s called National Novel Writing Month for a reason: the idea is to get your words down and your creative juices flowing.

But as a PSA, please make sure you do your due diligence and thoroughly edit your completed manuscript before you decide to submit it for publication. Just wait to start the editing process until December 1.

How about you? When you write, do you edit as you go or wait until later to edit? Share in the comments.


If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo (or even if you’re not), write for fifteen minutes about anything.

Seriously. Anything.

The catch is that you can’t correct yourself or edit your prose in those fifteen minutes. Treat that time as a warm-up for November.

When you’re done, if you’re feeling brave, post your practice in the comments, and leave some notes of encouragement for your fellow writers.

About Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

  • Hardest but best lesson to learn, IMHO. If someone asks me what the number one rule is for getting a book done, this is it. You’re going to perfect whatever you’ve written when you’re done anyway. Don’t waste your time with the editing until it’s time to edit!

  • Not only during NaNoWriMo, but with any first draft.

  • I actually write more, faster, if I edit as I go. I’ve timed it. However, I’m also not representative of the average writer.

    • Dairenna

      This. I write faster and am less distracted when I go back and edit.
      Adding: this will be my fourth time participating in NaNo and the fourth time I will get over 50K by a significant amount. Every year except last I edited as I went. Last year? I couldn’t go back to read over what I wrote the day before and it threw me off. I had a bigger goal than I could feasibly tackle. I was panicking, stressed, and the novels I wrote weren’t at the quality I normally produce when in year’s prior the quality didn’t change much.
      I’ve learned to edit for typos, grammar, punctuation, consistency, details, showing vs telling, excessive words, word choice, and all the other fun stuff as I write. Does it slow me down? No because I’ve learned to do it WHILE I’M WRITING THE STORY. Editing comes as natural as writing to me and hey, if I can edit and still hit 200,000 words in a month then why not?
      I believe not all first drafts have to be crap and if you can learn to edit and maintain a good typing speed (as in hitting the 50K a month) then why not? Sure, I still do a full edit after writing a “first draft” but I’m correcting a lot less and my first drafts aren’t first drafts, not really.
      It’s all up to the writer and if they feel they can tackle 50K with editing. Some people can (and do) and some people can’t.

  • Mishy

    I do try to just get the ideas down before editing, but it’s hard. I’m a born editor, and it’s much less intimidating than coming up with brilliant plot lines and all!

  • Whilst I agree with you regarding writing in the flow, Liz, I too get overwhelmed at 250 pages of editing. That said in writing straight through I found I had fewer plot changes in my editing.

  • Diane Turner

    Okay. Here’s a stab at “anything.” Hope it isn’t too long. If so, please delete. Thanks.

    A time capsule and note leff for a far-in-the-distant relative.
    Enclosed you will find and are looking at objects that represent a world about which you’ve only read and heard related through books and stories told and retold through the ages from your family. I hope they give you s sense of your place in it all and see yourself swimming in this family’s DNA soup.
    These photos of your ancestors will give you reason why your nose turns up or down, your eyes are blue or brown or some variation, but they won’t give you hints of why you cry easily or not at all, that you are gregarious or introverted, but you may recognize a gesture, a look as your own. You see the faces of people long since dead, including mine. My mother died wishing she had known her only child better, my iron-spined grandmother, my children and their children, whose mere presence brought a measure of joy to an otherwise tormented planet.

    Enclosed find a list of book I loved. Read them and reread them. The Hours, Pride and Prejudice, The Brothers Karamazov, and so many others. You will find life lessons in these thin pages to carry you through life. Books bring you more than knowledge; they help you find yourself and what you value, and what to do with inate integrity.

    A copy of my first book is included. It took years to craft and didn’t didn’t begin until I was nearly a half-century old.Examine your strengths, what mudges you to greatness. Want something so badly it physically hurts.

    My journals will give you part and parcvel of myu life at any given time. The emotions range from one end to the other. Do write to sort of what troubles you, what inspires you, and what is best and safe left behind.

    My daughter began mnaking jewelry – sea glass and bezzled metal – in her late thirties. She always groused she had no talent, well, until she discovered this. It changed her. Create now.

    Today’s newspaper will give you a hint of life today. We fight wars in the Middle East. YOu’ll read of famine and genocide in African countries, South Africa is imploding, as Mexico struggles with pandemics, to say nothing of the economy. As you can see, all things run in cycles, including you.

    Wear color, all of them. Don’t be monochromatic in clothes, in thought, or in love. And tulips! Is there anything more enchanting than an open tulip? Look at the center, at the pistels and stamens. It’s like looking at a mini universe. Bring flowers into your house, grow them in your yard.

    The world is a large place, but see as much of it as you can. These pieces of pottery were purchased painstakingly in a tiny hilltown in Tuscany on a crisp winter day, with the same friends in the earlier photos. Every time I refill the olive oil decanter, I relive a part of the trip and am transported back, feel the Tuscan sun on my shoulders. From the photos, you can see it rained, yet through the watery light you see hoy on the faces of everyone. Enrich yourself, learn. Just go.

    YOu’ll see a handmade linen tablecloth, gray and coarse, made by my grandmother and it represents strength, her strength, your strength. She came to America on a ship in the 1920s and refused to return to her native Austria. Here was a woman with an 8th grade education, who spoke only German, in a strange country with no job or support, but she made it happen for her and her 2-years old child, my mother. This is the same firey blookd that courses in your veins.

    Wind chimes of Indian brass, mellow and low, hang outside my bedroom window and mournfully lull me to sleep each night. It takes only the slightest breeze to bring them to life. Enjoy the small things. And music, ah, music. close your eyes, sit back, and listen to Nessun Dorma sung by Pavarotti. Listen to the Beatles. They will tell you the story of the 1960s. Take my camera and record your world, as I did mine.Memories take on a magicalquality when accompanied by pictures when you run your fingers over the images Read poetry. Mary Oliver, Robinson Jeffers,and many others.

    Love the world, love yourself, love your family, love life and it is has to offer. With love, all else comes.

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  • Kcrraja

    I find it difficult to write fast if I have several facts and figures to refer to , and tables or quotations to insert. I often leave them blank to be able to write fast. I write mostly non-fiction. I find I have to write 30-35% more . The draft looks often unbearably immature and i keep away from it for some days!

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